I love the origins of words and phrases, I guess that makes me a bit of a sad sack, but whatever. English is a strange language, it’s like a sponge. It sucks up words and phrases from other parts of the world and holds onto them. Many of the sayings we use in common English make no literal sense but are so ingrained that we never give them a second thought.
Because we’re an island nation the sea has always been in our blood, so it’s no surprise that many sayings have come from a life on the open waves. Because many of these phrases were generated so long ago, the meanings are sometimes partial guesswork. Here’s a handful of those sayings and their origins…
By And Large
By and large, meaning “on the whole” or “generally speaking” is such a normal thing to say you don’t ever really consider it an idiom. But when you actually think of the words “by and large” you realise that it actually doesn’t make much sense as an English sentence.
In nautical terms, “large” was the name given to a wind that was at your back and blowing in the direction you wanted to travel. On the other hand if a sailor said they were travelling “by the wind” that would mean they were sailing into the wind. So a vessel that could sail “by and large” meant a ship that could progress whichever way the wind was blowing.